How to bring the power of Telenovelas into learning

How do you get your message to resonate - especially if it’s a challenging or complex topic? A little-known 70s TV producer called Miguel uncovered a simple yet effective method.

Miguel Sabido’s day-to-day was producing telenovelas. You know the stereotype - they’re dramatic, flamboyant, addictive, tense. And with plenty more style than substance.

Concerned by the social and health issues of the time, Miguel dived into Albert Bandura's research into Social Learning Theory. He sensed an opportunity to put Bandura’s theory to the test.

Miguel created a new form of telenovelas that set out to drive social change. "Ven Conmigo” ("Come with Me”) was designed to entertain and promote adult literacy - its plot centered around the lives of adults enrolled in a literacy class.

Traditionalists - and many TV producers - were skeptical. But the show was a hit - and enrollments in real literacy classes went up 9x.

Soon the Mexican government used a telenovela to successfully promote family planning to curb the country's high birth rate. And within a few years Miguel’s approach - The Sabido Method - had been adopted around the world; from Tanzania to India to Peru to China.

Here are 3 elements from Miguel’s method that we apply into the story-driven learning we create here at Wavetable.

1. Relatable role models

Bandura found we learn through role models. The more we identify with them, the more likely we are to imitate and internalize their lessons. But they’ve got to be relatable. Caricatures and stereotypes don’t cut it.  The audience needs to think and feel “this could be me”.

It’s not the people, though - their problems, situations, and worlds need to be relatable, too. This might sound simple, but it’s easy to slip into something sensationalist. And that’s when the spell is broken.**

2. Multiple characters, multiple paths

Observing others and what happens to them can be a surprisingly effective way to learn. As a TV producer, Miguel did this through characters. He had three main types:

  1. Positive role model: Does the right thing and is rewarded as a result of their actions
  2. Negative role model: Does the wrong thing and is punished as a result of their actions
  3. Transitional characters: The most relatable. Some may fall to the wrong side, some grow to adopt the lessons

These characters and their arcs help an audience discover possible paths from their own life choices - negative and positive. And the key here is to show, not tell.

3. An epilogue to encourage exploration

Belief is powerful. If we identify with a character - real or fictional - and see them grow in an achievable, believable way then we might just believe we can do the same. But willpower only goes so far - especially if we don’t know how to make the change we seek.

To bridge this gap, The Sabido Method uses an epilogue. In Miguel’s telenovelas it was a narrator summarizing what just happened and offering phone or postal resources to go further. In today’s world of flexible media the possibilities expand: chatbots, Discord channels, coaching sessions, online courses, and beyond.

Weaving in real-world resources is more challenging in fictional worlds, but as reality and fiction continue to converge, smart storytelling can keep an audience immersed.

And The Sabido Method isn’t just powerful for non profit or cause-based work. Bring it into your next pitch, campaign, workshop… or telenovela. You may be surprised at what happens.

What do you make of Miguel’s method?

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